Geneva, September 27, 2023 – The World Trade Organization (WTO) successfully concluded its sixth workshop on import licensing and notifications, marking the first in-person gathering of its kind since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The event, which took place from September 25 to 27, saw the participation of twenty-eight government officials hailing from developing and least developed country (LDC) members. Organized jointly by the Market Access Division and the Institute for Training and Technical Cooperation (ITTC), the workshop focused on addressing capacity constraints and the intricate requirements of import licensing notifications, while also assessing the technical assistance needs in this domain.
Mr. Nat Tharnpanich of Thailand, Chair of the Committee on Import Licensing, delivered the opening remarks. He underscored the historical significance of import licensing as a trade policy instrument widely employed by governments to manage trade and achieve various public policy objectives. Import licensing, originally included in the negotiation agenda of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) during the 1970s, later evolved into one of the multilateral trade agreements within the WTO framework, stemming from the Uruguay Round.
Mr. Tharnpanich emphasized the critical role of transparency within the multilateral trading system, dating back to the establishment of the GATT over seven decades ago. Transparency provisions have been incorporated into nearly all WTO agreements, including the Agreement on Import Licensing Procedures. However, he lamented the suboptimal state of notifications under this Agreement, with thirteen members having made no notifications since joining the WTO, and many others failing to update their import licensing notifications for extended periods or partially fulfilling their obligations.
To unravel the reasons behind this low compliance rate, the Committee on Import Licensing, in collaboration with the WTO Secretariat, has undertaken initiatives like the in-person workshop. Mr. Tharnpanich affirmed the WTO's readiness to provide technical support on this matter and expressed willingness to explore regional or bilateral technical assistance as deemed appropriate in the future.
Workshop participants received an extensive overview of the Agreement on Import Licensing Procedures and engaged in practical exercises involving the preparation of notifications under various articles of the Agreement. An experience-sharing session featured government officials from Cambodia, Mauritius, Myanmar, the Philippines, and Hong Kong, China, who shared insights into the challenges encountered in import licensing notifications and best practices.
Presentations during the workshop highlighted key obstacles to transparency, including insufficient knowledge and awareness among relevant government agencies on how to draft notifications effectively, a lack of human resources to maintain notification quality and sustainability, and the absence of updated import licensing requirements, fees, and charges on official government websites.
Participants were encouraged to view the notification process as an evolving journey that improves with practice. Establishing focal points and seeking advice from the WTO Secretariat when necessary were among the suggestions put forth to enhance the notification process. The workshop served as a pivotal platform for enhancing understanding, addressing challenges, and fostering greater compliance with import licensing notification obligations under the WTO framework.